LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - An East Texas man has spent more than $10,000 in the last year to re-fence his 40-acre property. That's because someone was growing marijuana on his land last September.
It was an elaborate operation with underground generators and irrigation systems. Authorities said they dug up and disposed of thousands of marijuana plants. Darren Coleman, the landowner, said he had no idea an entire family was living and harvesting marijuana on his property.
But, it's not the first hidden pot field to be found in East Texas. Law enforcement said the real threat is the folks who are planting these pot fields. They said these pot fields are being planted by Mexican Drug Cartels who are very good at hiding.
Coleman said he purchased his 40-acre lot in Shelby County several years ago for his family. But when he discovered Mexican Cartel workers were living on his property, he said, he was shocked.
"This is the way they traversed through marijuana fields," Coleman said, showing the East Texas News dozens of rabbit trails cut through the pine trees. "When they cut all the limbs down and just made these well-manicured rabbit trails."
For months, Coleman and his family had been spending time at their Shelby County property. He said his wife first noticed there was a problem when their lake levels were low. But they had no idea, 12,000 marijuana plants were being harvested and grown behind a dense wall of pine trees just yards away from where they were standing, he said.
"I was absolutely shocked, and I was first thinking 'who in the world would trespass on the property and do that,' but when I got down here, I was just shocked to see the massive amount of marijuana that was growing and clearly, they had been here for months and months doing that," Coleman said.
Sheriff Willis Blackwell says they discovered underground generators and irrigation pumps next to two lakes on the property. Coleman said one of the underground bunkers the cartel workers dug was so deep, he could actually stand in it.
"They actually had apparently a pump and a generator down there and they had a pipe going out into the pond and they were draining the lake and pumping water up hill," Coleman said.
The pipes went through a valley and behind the trees, straight into fields of marijuana plants, Coleman said. The damage done by the marijuana fields was devastating, he said. Since September, Coleman has put $10,000 back into his property to reverse the after effects of the harvesting.
"I have spent a fair amount on mulching; getting lanes cuts; roads cut through the trees; had the entire front—road frontage re-fenced and I have to have another side of the property re-fenced," Coleman said.
Sheriff Blackwell says the entire operation cost approximately $1,000,000. A Mexican Cartel gold mine, he said, that no one, not even Coleman, could have ever found without flying over it.
"You should be scared because they're value of life is different than normal people. When you're in that kind of business, they don't mind killing you for anything," Blackwell said.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Gulf Cartel, known for kidnapping and assassinations, is the major player in East Texas. Coleman said he doesn't know who specifically was working in his fields, but he said their ability to keep such a low profile while they were back there is scary.
In fact, he said huts were discovered in a property next to his. Inside those huts were food, clothing and supplies; an indicator that they had been working there for quite some time, he said.
"Someone with that kind of investment, you would assume they'd be armed out here and if you stumble on them it could be very, very dangerous," Coleman said.
Nacogdoches Sheriff Jason Bridges said East Texas has become the primary gateway for illicit narcotics because it's smack in the middle of Houston and Dallas. He said he's suspected for some time that East Texas has become a hub for drug trafficking.
Right now, I-20, I-30, And I-35 are major gateways for illicit drugs, as they are trafficked to the north, the U.S. Department of Justice reports.
Back in 2011, Bridges helped catch J. Guadalupe Chavez and Primitizo Dijar at a marijuana camp near the Shawnee River.
"You're going to get caught, and you know, sooner or later, you're going to get caught. I don't care how remote the locations are. Sooner or later, you're going to get caught," Bridges said in 2011.
He said that he does believe now that those two workers had ties to the Mexican Cartel. He said the scary thing is that they could have possibly been distributing to locals; people we see and do business with every day.
"We do know that a truck came every weekend and brought them supplies. We figured that truck was probably local. But, we were never able to track that point down," Bridges said.
Coleman said he knows cartels will kill for their crop, and the fact that they are now his neighbors is frightening.
"It's very scary. In the summertime, we don't come out so often because it's hot, but in the fall and winter we like to come out, hike, hunt, fish and now we're a little apprehensive about coming out and wonder who is back out here in these woods," Coleman said.
Bridges said East Texas is the perfect planes for these cartels to operate because we have the perfect shield.
"We have so many thousands upon thousands of acreage, forest land where property owners own a lot of land that are very remote locations through East Texas. And what they're doing are going out and finding these spots that are not checked," Bridges said.
Back in 2012, a 675-acre field was discovered in Polk County. Authorities told the East Texas News at the time, that the operation was so sophisticated it could not have been run by just one person.
That same year, four major marijuana fields were discovered in Cherokee County.
"You know, the chances of actually finding out who was behind this grow are probably less than great," said Captain John Raffield back in 2012.
Bridges said if they do catch anyone, it will be people who are hired to do the Cartels dirty work. People who are either from Mexico or are from East Texas, like 25-year-old Eric McQuilliams.
McQuilliams was arrested last month in Wood County. Authorities said he confessed to having Mexican Cartel Ties.
Authorities said most of the fields will be in remote locations so looking for extra foot traffic and rabbit trails is the best tip to finding illegal pot fields.
Yet, Coleman said he never noticed a thing and neither did his neighbors, which is why he is doing everything he can to keep the bad guys out.